Rep.-elect Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, claps after mentioning outgoing House leaders during a speech before the House Democratic caucus voted for their candidate for Speaker of the House on Thursday. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Rep. Rachel Talbot Ross, a progressive Democrat from Portland, was nominated Thursday to be the next speaker of the House – putting her on track to be the first Black person in state history to lead a legislative chamber.

That wasn’t the only history made Thursday either. Democrats also elected women to the posts of majority and assistant majority leaders, marking the first time a legislative caucus in Maine has been led by three women.

Talbot Ross, whose father Gerald Talbot was the state’s first Black legislator in 1972, still needs to be confirmed by the full House when it convenes on Dec. 7. Since Democrats currently control 82 of the 151 seats, her confirmation is all but assured.

“I am truly honored and humbled to be nominated by my House Democratic colleagues to serve as speaker of the House,” Talbot Ross said in a statement. “I am proud of all that we accomplished during the 130th Legislature, but I know there is still so much more to do to address the many challenges facing our state, including the rising cost of living, climate change, and a lack of access to affordable housing and healthcare.”

Her selection could make for an interesting dynamic between the Democratic-led House and Gov. Janet Mills, a centrist who cruised to reelection, beating former Republican Gov. Paul LePage by 12 percentage points.

As speaker, Talbot Ross will control the agenda, assign lawmakers to standing committees and have considerable influence over which bills are brought to the House floor for votes and when. The speaker also plays an important role in state budget negotiations between the Legislature and the governor’s office.


Talbot Ross, the current assistant majority leader, has been an outspoken advocate for reforming the state’s criminal justice system and for full tribal sovereignty – measures that have been opposed by Mills, a former prosecutor and attorney general.

Rep.-elect Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, gestures toward the clapping members of the House Democratic caucus after they elected her their candidate for speaker of the House. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

She was selected over Rep. Ed Crockett, who is also from Portland, and will replace current House Speaker Ryan Fecteau, of Biddeford, who could not seek reelection because of term limits. Fecteau was the youngest House speaker in the country and the first openly gay speaker in state history.

Democrats also elected Rep. Maureen Terry, of Gorham, as the House majority leader and Rep. Kristen Cloutier, of Lewiston, as assistant majority leader on Thursday. Current Majority Leader Michelle Dunphy, of Old Town, could not seek reelection because of term limits.

Last week, House Republicans chose Rep. Billy Bob Faulkingham, a 44-year-old lobsterman from Winter Harbor, as minority leader and Rep. Amy Arata, a real estate professional from New Gloucester, as assistant minority leader.

Talbot Ross’ ascent comes as the 131st Legislature prepares to convene as the most diverse in state history, with five Black members. Democrats Mana Abdi, of Lewiston, and Deqa Dhalac, of South Portland, will be sworn in as the first Somali-American legislators in the House. And Democrat Jill Duson, of Portland, will become the first Black woman elected to the Senate, where she will serve with Sen. Craig Hickman, who also is Black.

Talbot Ross, who headed the Portland branch of the NAACP before it disbanded, became the first Black person elected to a leadership position two years ago, when she was unanimously elected to serve as assistant majority leader, a position also known as the “whip.” That’s the third-highest-ranking post in the House, behind the speaker and majority leader.



She sponsored a bill last session to give Maine’s four tribal nations the same sovereignty rights as 570 other federally recognized tribes in the U.S. The sovereignty of Maine tribes has been limited by a pair of laws enacted in 1980 that settled a tribal land claim to two-thirds of the state of Maine. In exchange for an $81.5 million cash settlement, the Passamaquoddy and Penobscots agreed to drop their land claims and adhere to a unique jurisdictional arrangement that allowed the state to regulate tribes much like municipalities.

Her bill passed both the House and Senate, but died on the appropriations table. Mills threatened to veto not only that bill, but a compromise that would have given tribes exclusive rights to mobile sports betting.

Outgoing Speaker of the House Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddeford, top left, Clerk of the House Robert B. Hunt and Assistant Clerk of the House Jennifer McGowan watch as Rep.-elect Rachel Talbot Ross, D-Portland, casts her ballot during a House Democratic caucus election for their candidate for Speaker of the House on Thursday in the House chamber of the Maine State House in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Talbot Ross also sponsored bills to require racial impact statements on legislation and has sought to reform the criminal justice system to address system that disproportionately affect disadvantaged communities.

During her first term, Mills resisted sweeping criminal justice and tribal reforms, instead preferring targeted, incremental reforms. She also stopped additional spending proposals from progressives.

After winning reelection, Mills didn’t indicate that her posture would change.

“I don’t have an answer to that,” she said the day after the election, when asked whether she would be more open to progressive proposals now that she doesn’t have to worry about reelection. “I try to look at every issue separately, look at every proposal independently and gauge what’s in the best interest of Maine people.”

Talbot Ross had a 21-year career with the city of Portland, serving as its longtime director of equal opportunity and multicultural affairs. She resigned in 2015 following an incident involving two parking lot attendants. City officials declined to comment on the matter, citing personnel issues, and released her resignation letter and separation agreement in response to a records request.

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